If you’re caught in the gears and you don’t know where to turn, there is someone who is on your side.
Kim Carter, the Provincial Ombudsperson, came through Cranbrook on Tuesday as part of a tour of the southeast Interior. The tour is part of the Office’s regular efforts at raising awareness.
Carter took some time to come to the Townsman offices Tuesday to talk about the Office.
“Our office is located in Victoria, but we serve the whole province,” she said. “We set up our office for the day (in the towns being visited), and give people the chance to come in and talk. And the tour allows me to talk to different organizations about what we do. It gives people the sense that we understand, and helps us understand that the province doesn’t end at the Tsawassen Ferry.”
While in Cranbrook, Carter made a presentation to City Council, talked with the Rotary Clubs, and met with service and advocacy groups.
The previous day she saw the Elk Valley flood damage first-hand while in Sparwood, and on Wednesday, was scheduled to head up to Invermere.
The Office of the Ombudsperson receives inquiries and complaints about the programs, services and practices of public agencies in B.C. While not acting as an advocate, the Office can conduct an investigation to determine if a public agency is treating the people it serves fairly and reasonably, and in many cases can effect a systemic change for the better. Carter works with an knowledgable and compassionate staff. “There are real people on the end of the phone, who will listen,” she said. “And if it is something where we can have a role to play we will do so.”
The Ombudsperson is an officer of the provincial legislature, independent of government and political parties. He or she is appointed for a six-year term, with one renewal. Carter has just been re-appointed, and so she will serve in the capacity until 2018. Her background is in military — she served in the Canadian Forces as a military judge, and was involved in war crimes investigations in the former Yugoslavia.
The B.C. Office of the Ombudsperson deals with between 7,500 and 8,000 complaints and inquiries a year, not all of which result in investigations, Carter said.
“Looking at administrative fairness, that’s pretty much our focus,” Carter said.
The function of the office is both an art and a science.
“Our office counters the tendency towards administrative efficiency, as opposed to public service,” Carter said. “We apply principles of administrative fairness, which are pretty well covered in law. But fairness isn’t just about following the law. It’s also about good neighbourliness from the point of view of members of the public being serviced by public agencies. Just ‘doing everything we were obliged to do’ may not be enough (on the part of an agency). So it’s a mixture of law and common sense.”
The Office of the Ombudsperson can investigate provincial ministries, provincial boards and commissions (like WorkSafe BC, for example), provincial Crown corporations, municipalities and regional districts, schools, universities and colleges, hospitals and health authorities, and more.
Last week, Carter released the annual report of last year’s inquiries, requests for information, assistance or complaints. The top five authorities receiving complaints were the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Justice, Workers’ Compensation Board and ICBC.
The job itself is both challenging and rewarding.
“It can be a challenge, dealing with complaints all the time,” Carter said. “But for the staff and myself, the commitment to fair treatment is rewarding — the fact that we have the ability to help people and make the province a better place to live.”
Carter urges members of the public who feel they have been treated unfairly to contact the Office, or even to learn more. So for more information or to file a complaint go to www.ombudsman.bc.ca or call 1-800-567-3247.